Loving Care in the Air
(click here to view escort photos)

It would be wrong to say that they get no respect--they get lots of it!--but it’s clear to us
 that they don’t get enough attention.  Let’s correct that right now.

We’re talking about our loyal, caring, indispensable Healing the Children escorts--the
people who put the two sides of our equation together.  We live by this formula: hurting
children plus volunteer doctors equals changing the world, one child at a time.  “Plus” is
where the escorts come in--because if we can’t get the children to the doctors and then
back home again, no healing will happen. 

Our escorts, primarily American Airlines employees, are part of the Airline Ambassadors organization.  Airline Ambassadors, founded in 1996, is a nonprofit group whose many charitable activities include escorting children like ours to and from their homes and the countries where they receive medical treatment.  The ambassadors use their airline passes and their days off to accomplish these missions.

Margaret Whitehead coordinates escorts for Airline Ambassadors.  “These unsung
heroes are the ones who must pry a sick child from his mother’s arms and comfort him
until he arrives in the arms of his host family.  It requires worlds of compassion and
patience.   And, since 9/11, most of these escorts have been required to take a pay
cut, which has made it necessary for many of them to either fly more hours each
month or work a second job.  Yet they are still willing to use precious days off to
escort a sick child as she begins her journey to good health.”

The escorts themselves tell us again and again that the sacrifice is more than redeemed
by the rewards that flow from serving HTC children.  Escort Kirstin Perkins writes, “My
first escort trip was such an amazing experience!  Gary, who needed heart surgery, was the sweetest little boy and such a good baby.  The only time he cried during the entire trip was when I handed him off to the host family, which, of course, brought me to tears.  The agents in Grand Rapids were great!  They gave me a big hug and had a little giggle as they told me that this happens every time.  They always end up putting a crying flight attendant back on the plane to go home.  Little Gary really touched my heart, and I couldn’t wait to do another escort trip.”  Elizabeth, age 7, was another child Kirstin escorted:  “She was a burn victim headed for more surgery in Detroit, and she was looking forward to staying with her original host family.  I speak very little Spanish and Elizabeth doesn’t speak English, but that didn’t stop us from talking . . . all
day!  I had brought some coloring books, and Elizabeth would point to objects, I would
tell her what they were in English, and she would reciprocate in Spanish. We were
having so much fun I almost hoped she wouldn’t go to sleep.  What a brave little girl!”

Escort Donna Kocian also had a memorable first trip, which she described in an email
to Margaret Whitehead.  “I am back and still walking on clouds.  I am hooked.  As I
escorted Angela from Detroit, I truly felt the day was one in which we were in the palm
of God’s hand.  When I got on the plane in Santo Domingo to return to Miami, one of
the crew members said I was ‘radiant.’  When we were waiting in Miami, there was only
one chair in the boarding lounge.  Angela sat in my lap.  She melted in my arms and
snuggled her head in the crook of my neck.  I could feel her little heart beating so
strong against me.  I thought of her mom who put her on the plane as a very sick little girl, not knowing much about where she was going; just turning her over to so many strangers, trusting she would come back alive and healed.  I thought about the medical team, their awesome efforts.  I thought about the host family, taking her to surgery, healing her, loving her.  And how honored I was to have that healthy little heart in my arms for that moment.  Please call me anytime.  I will do everything I possibly can to help in any way.”

Thank you, everyone--for giving your precious time, for coping with the tears and fears
and diapers and bibs, for loving these children who whisk through your lives for only a
moment, for helping us change the world, one child at a time.

View photos of our escorts

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